A practitioner of physics is known as a physicist. It seems like it would logically follow that a practitioner of metaphysics would be known as a metaphysicist; yet, in every text I've read, a specialist in metaphysics is referred to as a metaphysician. What is the reason for this distinction?

The OED has an entry for metaphysicist, citing the origin as:

Late 19th cent.; earliest use found in The Ladies' Repository. From metaphysic + -ist, after physicist.

However, its use seems rare.


The word metaphysician has been in use since a time when physician could also mean a physical scientist. The distinction between physician and physicist has later hardened only to avoid ambiguity. But in the case of metaphysician there is no danger of confusion: there is no study that comes after the study of medicine like metaphysics come after physics. (Metaphysics, Τὰ μετὰ τὰ φυσικά, is the name given to those writings of Aristotle that immediately follow his treatise on Nature or φύσις.)

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A practitioner of physics is known as a physicist.

Well, yes. A practitioner of the modern science called 'physics' is known as a physicist. But 'physic' is an ancient term and until the Enlightenment, 'physic' (or 'physick') was what we would now call 'medicine'. And a practitioner of 'physick' is a 'physician'.

Hence, a practitioner of 'metaphysics' is a metaphysician.

Merriam-Webster: Definition of physic

noun phys·ic \ˈfi-zik\

a : the art or practice of healing disease

b : the practice or profession of medicine

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  • But "metaphysics" isn't closely related to physic "medicine" or physicians "doctors"; it comes from "after physics" (the physical sciences). – herisson Feb 3 '16 at 9:35
  • 'Physical sciences' in the modern sense didn't exist (and hence, neither did 'physicist') until the scientific method was devised. Prior to that 'physics' and 'metaphysics' were simply the observable (for want of a better word) and philosophical sides of the same coin. 'Physician' and 'metaphysician' predate 'physicist' (as concepts, obviously, not English words!) by a couple of thousand years. – Charl E Feb 3 '16 at 9:54
  • I'm talking about Aristotle and his writings on physics. They certainly existed, even if they don't conform to the modern "scientific method." I don't understand the "Hence" step in your explanation. How do we get from physicians to metaphysicians? What is the link? – herisson Feb 3 '16 at 10:12
  • @sumelic I started off being extremely confident in my answer and you've dismantled it! I am going to have to think about that. I suppose I could ask you, how would we get from 'metaphysics' to 'metaphysicist' given that the existing suffix model was '-ian' prior to Newton, if you take my meaning. – Charl E Feb 3 '16 at 10:27

In my opinion, it shouldn't matter what the etymologies are, and we should pay more attention to the modern usage of the suffixes "-cist" and "-cian" in this usage. It's clear (at least to me) that we are compelled to update to "metaphysicist", based on the contemporary mission of those who practice this art and acknowledge that the modern occultist would take exception at being labeled with a moniker containing the word "physician".

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  • This is actually a question and answer page, not a discussion page. Each answer that you post in an answer box is expected to stand alone as an answer to the question at the top. “What is the reason” that the word metaphysician is used, not metaphysicist? An answer should answer the question as an expert would answer it, with explanation, context, and any supporting facts that are necessary to show that it is right. – MetaEd Oct 16 '17 at 17:08

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